Twitter mwitter

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"'Mwitter' to replace Twitter in Turkey?", Hurriyet 3/20/2014:

Only minutes after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to close down Twitter today, a new website was formed, either as a tribute from his followers or a mocking attempt from his critics: "Mwitter"

Erdoğan had earlier said in Turkish: "Twitter, mwitter kökünü kazıyacağız," translated into English as: "We’ll eradicate Twitter."

In colloquial Turkish, the "m" phrase cannot be translated easily into any language as it is not a regular lexical item. Its meaning (or the lack of meaning) depends on the intention of the speaker.

As one study explains:

"Semantically, reduplication with m-sound means 'and so on', 'such,' 'kind of,' 'sort of' depending on the meaning of the first part of the reduplicative form being ahead of m-insertion. [It] allows the speaker to give less than the amount of information requested, while still appearing cooperative. It indicates that the speaker does not wish to specify or elaborate, but instead appeals to the participant's common ground for inferring the intended meaning."

If you followed the link on the words "one study", you found Neslihan Kansu-Yetkiner, "Blood, Shame and Fear: Self-Presentation Strategies in Turkish Women’s Talk about their Health and Sexuality", Groningen Dissertations in Linguistics 58, 2006. The relevant passage is found in section 6.3.2.1 "Reduplication with m-sound", which is part of chapter 6, "Indirectness and Euphemism":

This reduplication consists of repeating a word, but prefixing it with an m-sound in the second token. If the initial sound is a vowel, the process is accomplished by m-insertion. Otherwise, the first consonant of word is replaced with m-sound. The structure usually involves nouns, but other word classes, for instance, verbs or adjectives, can also be reduplicated in this way. In its realization, the second token retains the number and agreement features of the original word.

(8) kitap mitap (consonant initial NP)_______________
  book (NP) mook (NP)

Semantically, reduplication with m-sound means ‘and so on’, ‘so-and-so ‘such’, ‘kind of’, ‘sort of’ depending on the meaning of the first part of the reduplicative form being ahead of m-insertion. The designation of the meaning of whole reduplication is construed as a natural semantic extension of this original form. For instance, in the following example:

(9) Dün kitap mitap aldım.
  Yesterday, books and so on I bought.
(paraphrase: Yesterday, I bought books and things).

The meaning of kitap mitap is defined by the meaning of kitap, the original form within reduplication. The second part of the reduplication invites the hearer to construct a set of similar items as the referent (in this case probably school materials) for the expression ‘mitap’, which is not a regular lexical item of the Turkish language.

Reduplication with m-sound allows the speaker to give less than the amount of information requested, while still appearing cooperative. It indicates that the speaker does not wish to specify or elaborate, but instead appeals to the participants’ common ground for inferring the intended meaning. In this way the speaker can save time and unnecessary processing effort for all participants; but she can also allude vaguely (‘euphemistically’) to a taboo referent, [...]

Prime Minister Erdogan's purpose was presumably not to allude vaguely to a taboo referent, but rather to allude vaguely to a set of social media and other apps and sites that he plans to try to suppress. Thus  "Twitter, mwitter, we will eradicate it all: Turkey PM", AFP 3/22/2014:

Erdogan first vowed to shut Twitter down at a campaign rally on Thursday in the city of Bursa.

"Now there is a court order. Twitter, mwitter, we will eradicate it all," Erdogan said, using a Turkish expression that mocked the name of the social networking site.

"The international community will say this and that, and it doesn't concern me one bit," Erdogan added, apparently anticipating the subsequent uproar.

"They will see the power of the Turkish Republic. This has nothing to do with freedom-shmeedom. Freedom is not invading someone's privacy."

That source doesn't quote the Turkish original of "freedom-shmeedom", but this page suggests that it was "özgürlükle mözgürlükle", and the original passage was (excusing my incompetent translation):

Twitter’ın mivitırın kökünü kazıyacağız. Uluslararası camia şöyle der böyle der, hiçbiri ilgilendirmez. Bunun özgürlükle mözgürlükle ilgisi yok. Türkiye Cumhuriyeti devletinin gücünü göstereceğiz.

We will uproot Twitter and such. The international community will say this and say that, it doesn't matter at all. This has nothing to do with freedom and such. We will show the power of the Republic of Turkey.

If so, then "freedom-shmeedom" is not a good translation, since the Yiddish-influenced English pattern has a different interpretation, even though there may be a historical connection. Thus Andrew Nevins and Bert Vaux, "Metalinguistic, shmetalinguistic: the phonology of shm-reduplication", CLS (39) 2003, on the origin of English shm-reduplication:

Though shm-reduplication is most familiar from English, individuals who are familiar with it generally feel it to be of Yiddish origin. Southern (forthcoming)  suggests that shm-reduplication arose in Yiddish from a mix of Turkic Echo m- and East Slavic sh-. [...] Yitskhok Niborski (personal communication) hypothesizes that the archetype for shm-reduplication in Yiddish is the collocation tate shmate ‘father shmather/rag’, which he states was already in use more than 150 years ago in European Yiddish communities. It would have been used, hadds, by an embittered wife against the man who provided her with children but not with an income. In this case shmate is an independent lexical item meaning ‘rag’, but it may have provided the vehicle for reanalysis as an echo formation.

Their description of the meaning:

Shm-reduplication resembles echo formations in other languages in being used to  downplay or deride a particular phrase (cf. Emeneau 1939 for South Asian languages). As one survey respondent put it, applying shm-reduplication to a form  indicates “I care so little about [it] that I will pronounce it flagrantly incorrectly,  so there”. The dismissive sense of the construction can also be employed modally,  to reassure, to downplay a situation or problem that is potentially overwhelming or threatening, or to lighten a situation with humor by pretending to dismiss it.

This seems quite different from the "… and stuff like that" meaning for Turkish m-reduplication described by Kansu-Yetkiner.

However reduplicated and interpreted, Erdogan's attempted ban doesn't seem to have worked – Constanze Letsch, "Turkey Twitter users flout Erdogan ban on micro-blogging site", The Guardian 3/21/2014:

The hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey quickly rose to the top trending term globally. According to social media agency We Are Social the number of tweets sent from Turkey went up 138% following the ban.  

Shortly after the Twitter ban came into effect about midnight, the microblogging company tweeted instructions to users in Turkey on how to circumvent it using text messaging services in Turkish and English. Turkish tweeters were quick to share other methods of tiptoeing around the ban, using "virtual private networks" (VPNs) – which allow internet users to connect to the web undetected – or changing the domain name settings on computers and mobile devices to conceal their geographic whereabouts.  

Some large Turkish news websites also published step-by-step instructions on how to change domain name system (DNS) settings.  

On Friday, Turkey woke up to lively birdsong: according to the alternative online news site Zete.com, almost 2.5m tweets – 17,000 tweets a minute – have been posted from Turkey since the Twitter ban went into effect, setting records for Twitter use in the country. "Boss, my bird is still tweeting… @RT_Erdogan," posted @Fakir_Bey. "And yours?"

One circumvention method involves using Google's DNS server 8.8.8.8 — and explaining this on Erdogan's election posters is apparently a popular sport:


The quoted passage from Mr. Erdogan also includes another reduplication-in-the-service-of-vagueness — "Uluslararası camia şöyle der böyle der" ("The international community will say this and that") – about which Kansu-Yetkiner says:

Şöyle böyle can be used to signal looseness in the use of a wide range of different sentence elements. In general, şöyle böyle provides a blurred expression rather than giving clear-cut, straightforward explanations in describing manner, situation or state.


The "twitter mwitter" speech seems to be here on YouTube — but on a quick run-through, I didn't catch the twitter-mwitter part.

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14 Comments »

  1. Levantine said,

    March 22, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

    While I agree that the Turkish m-reduplication does not ordinarily have the same dismissive overtones as the Yiddish-derived shm-reduplication, I do think that Erdoğan's use of the construction was intended (at least in part) to be derisive in this instance. "Mwitter" sounds silly enough in Turkish that it seems to mock the original word with which it's paired, while the "özgürlükle mözgürlükle" reduplication appears to be ridiculing the idea that Twitter could have anything at all to do with freedom. I suppose what I mean is that a speaker's particular tone and known feelings on a subject are able to inflect the construction in such a way that it no longer functions as a neutral "and such".

    All that said, I'm only a fluent heritage speaker, and a true L1 speaker may well feel differently.

  2. BobC said,

    March 22, 2014 @ 2:32 pm

    Twitter shmitter!

  3. Levantine said,

    March 22, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

    Oh, and the twitter-mwitter part is two minutes into the clip. Erdoğan stumbles over the pronunciation a bit, which is why it's easy to miss.

  4. J Silk said,

    March 23, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

    This is interesting! In addition to the connection with Yiddish, it also reminded me of another phenomenon which is not phonetically but perhaps semantically (more?) similar, namely the Japanese addition of -nado, which in fact adds either no information at all of assumes of the listener shared knowledge. A lawyer friend of mine was driven crazy by this word in Japanese contracts, which specified terms as A, B, C, nado: he insisted that this made a contract utterly unenforceable!
    [Just an additional unrelated note: Sanskrit treatises sometimes like to add -ādi to lists. This means 'etc.' but what is funny is that sometimes an author will give 1, 2, 3 -ādi, when in fact the list being alluded to has only 4 members! Similarly (?) -nado can be added, it seems to me, although actually no additional information or items are in question...]

  5. Elif Batuman said,

    March 23, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

    Great post! I agree w Levantine that, although Turkish reduplication can be used for lots of things (vagueness/ euphemism, shortening a list, etc.), it often *does* have a dismissive/ distancing connotation – something like "or whatever," "or whatnot." Not totally unlike ironic quotation marks.

    I think the drift of that quote from the PM is: "'Twitter,' or whatever – we're going to eradicate it. The international community will say this, that, and the other – we don't care. It's not about 'freedoms' and whatnot. We're going to show the power of the Turkish state."

    The foreignness of the word "Twitter" lends itself to distancing – the ridiculousness of "mwitter" adds to the sense that Twitter is a peripheral, absurd, pointless thing. Every line in that quote has some kind of reduplication, except the last one, about the power of the Turkish state – that's the only thing that's important to the speaker.

  6. Elif Batuman said,

    March 23, 2014 @ 3:54 pm

    PS A reduplication anecdote from my childhood: once, a cousin and I were dragged on a long boring shopping expedition with our mothers. On the way back, we stopped at a shop where my mom bought me a doll [bebek]. My cousin was a bit older, and I don't think he got a toy.
    When we got back, an uncle asked where we had been. My cousin said, "We were coming home, but then we stopped to get bebek mebek for Elif." His parents reprimanded him, + that's how I understood that he had said something dismissive!

  7. Faith said,

    March 23, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

    Apologies to Mark for hijacking your comments thread. In response to the fairly hilarious anti-Pullum sentiment described in the previous post, I've made an open Facebook group called "Pullum's Thugs." Do join:
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/215028085357815/

  8. tuncay said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 9:09 am

    As Elif Batuman noted, just like many constructions in Turkish, the m-reduplication is subject to vocal interpretation in the sense that the intended meaning may depend on the tone/intonation, and the type of word.

    For use with nouns, the most common sense of this during daily speech is "etc.", and perhaps a nuanced "etc." that intends to convey "and some other things that I don't really know". It may also mean a derisive "the likes of it which I don't care about".

    However, it is used much more rarely with adjectives. And the only meaning I can come up with with adjectives is "I can count one quality of it on the spot, the rest you can imagine yourself".

    It is certainly very distinct from the AmE "shm" because certainly it's not derisive with adjectives, and its derision with nouns is context dependent.

    As someone who almost never "errrr"s while speaking, trying to spit out random nouns instead of m-reduplicating one is one of the few things that make me "errr" in my non-native English.

  9. Zabani said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

    I wasn't aware this also occurred in Turkish. Interesting stuff. Such constructions are plentiful in Kurdish and Persian.

  10. Caroline said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 5:10 pm

    I also thought of this Language Log post from January 14, which gives an example of this sort of reduplication construction in Bengali, with "t" or "f" as the consonant. (Comments to that post note its appearance in Hindi, Marathi, Oriya, and Tamil, as well — with different consonants.) {Consonant]-reduplication doesn't seem to be derisive in those languages, either, at least from the discussion on that post.

  11. Heike Wiese said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 3:21 am

    There is a nice transfer phenomenon of Turkish "m"-duplication into contemporary urban German ("Kiezdeutsch"): In multiethnic/multilingual urban areas of Germany, young people use "m"-duplication in German now, e.g. "Gib mal Cola Mola!" – "Give me some [coca] cola mola!"

    The meaning seems to be mostly as in Turkish (elaboration/vagueness), but sometimes with some pejorative overtones of dismissal, similar to Yiddish shm- ("whatever").

    Turkish is a common heritage language in this context. However, m-duplication is not restricted to Turkish-German bilinguals, but seems to be used across multi-/monolingual backgrounds, making m-duplication a new pattern in a shared multiethnolect.

    (I summarised some data on this on slides at the latest DGfS conference, see:
    http://www.uni-potsdam.de/fileadmin/projects/dspdg/Publikationen/Wiese_Pejoration_DGfS2014.pdf

  12. Terry Collmann said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 6:59 pm

    Faith – as the person whose comment on the DTel article prompted the response which attacked "Pullum's thuggish brownshirts", I'm not sure whether to be sorry or glad. BTW, don't write to the address for the DTel GP gives at the end of the preceding post – it moved from Canary Wharf to Victoria seven years ago

  13. Taner Sezer said,

    March 26, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

    This "m" duplication also adds some sort of pejorative flavor to the word, as Heike Wiese mentioned above but also some kind of cheapness too.
    A joke tells about a student asking money from parents. The parents are illiterate and the student wants to take advantage of this. He writes a letter and tries to exaggerate the numbers of the items in the demand schedules.
    He says, "I need money for kitap(book) mitap, defter(notebook) mefter, kalem(pencil) malem, silgi(rubber) milgi, etc" thinking a longer list means more money.
    But parents sends less money than he thinks with a letter advising, "Son, don't buy kitap, but buy mitap, don't buy kalem but buy malem, etc. So as these are cheaper the money we sent should be enough."

  14. un malpaso said,

    March 26, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

    Is this anything like "Yada Yada"?

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